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UPDATE: HSS&T Hearing on Federal R&D Budget Postponed to Later This Morning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The hearing has started. I'm tweeting it: SpcPlcyOnline.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee's hearing this morning with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren on the federal government's FY2012 budget request for research and development has been delayed. Instead of starting at 10:00, it will start "10 minutes after this morning's series of votes. (Last votes are expected between 11:30 - 11:45 a.m.)" according to a committee press release.

NASA IG Says NASA Could Save Money By Using Minotaur for Medium-Class Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin released a report today criticizing NASA's acquisition strategy for commercial launch vehicle services because it does not take advantage of the Minotaur rocket for medium-class missions.

"Our analysis shows that use of the Minotaur for certain NASA science missions offers significant savings when compared to the available commercially provided intermediate class launch vehicles cited in NASA's report to Congress. Moreover, it also would be less expensive than SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is still under development and not yet certified to carry NASA science missions. For example, if NASA used the Minotaur rather than Falcon 9 or the intermediate-class Atlas V for the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission scheduled for launch in November 2014, the Agency could save between $61 million and $156 million..."

The IG report continued that NASA's explanation for not using Minotaur is that it "could have a negative impact on the domestic commercial rocket industry because it might discourage companies from entering the launch services market," but the IG concludes that it is unlikely they would be ready in time for the SMAP mission. "Accordingly, while we appreciate the legal and policy reasons for promoting commercial launch providers, we believe that NASA should consider using the Minotaur as a launch vehicle for appropriate science missions until cost-effective and reliable commercial launch services are available."

Minotaurs are based on decomissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs.) The IG report says that NASA does consider Minotaur for small missions in its launch services acquisition strategy, but not for medium-class missions.

Learn the Details of NASA's FY2012 Budget Request at a March 4 Symposium

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

There is still time to register for the March 4 symposium at NASA headquarters on "State of the Space Agency: NASA Future Programs Presentation." NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and the Associate Administrators of NASA's mission directorates will present NASA's FY2012 budget request in some detail with plenty of time for Q&A. The event is sponsored by the NASA Alumni League, the American Astronautical Society, AIAA, Women in Aerospace, and CES. Advance registration is required, but there is no fee. RSVP to Pat Smith at Check our calendar for March 4 for more information. Fact Sheet on Where To Find Agency FY2012 Budget Requests Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Finding the NASA and DOD FY2012 budget requests is easy, but for anyone looking for how much is being requested for the Landsat program (at USGS) or NOAA's satellite activities, perhaps our latest fact sheet will help. FY2012 Budget Documentation: Where To Find Agency Budgets is now available on our left menu under Our Fact Sheets and Reports, or simply by clicking here .

Solar Flare Affects China's Shortwave Communications

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Yesterday's massive solar flare affected shortwave communications in southern China according to its Xinhua news agency.

As trumpted by NASA's 3D Sun free iPhone App, this first "X-flare" of the new solar cycle is the "strongest solar flare in more than four years." It was observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and peaked at 01:56 Universal Time yesterday (Monday evening in the United States). NASA warns that X-flares are the strongest kind of solar flares and are likely to produce geomagnetic storms on Earth within about 48 hours.

Second Try's the Charm for ATV

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

UPDATE: The second upper stage firing was successful and it has now separated from the ATV. The spacecraft will take one week to reach the ISS.

ORIGINAL STORY: The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo spacecraft was launched successfully by an Ariane V this afternoon. The launch was aborted yesterday. Everything appears well at the moment. The upper stage engine is due to be restarted in about 20 minutes to circularize the orbit.

The ATV is carrying about 7 tons of equipment and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft weighs 20 tons overall and is the heaviest payload lofted by an Ariane launch vehicle. This is the 200th Ariane launch since the first launch of Ariane 1 in 1979. This second ATV mission is named Johannes Kepler. The first was called Jules Verne. The spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry and will burn up in the atmosphere at the end of its resupply mission.

NPOESS Restructuring One Year Later

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The FY2012 budget requests for NOAA and DOD tell more of the story of the restructuring of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) ordered last year by the White House.

The DOD budget request includes $445 million for its component of the restructured program, called the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The budget is based on the assumption that DOD will get $352 million in FY2011, although Congress is still debating the FY2011 spending figures. In 2012, the department says that the $445 million will pay for Northrop Grumman to redesign the spacecraft that it was planning to build for NPOESS into a "smaller and lighter version." It also will pay for development of two sensors that were originally planned for NPOESS (VIIRS and MIS), spacecraft and sensor subsystems and materials, algorithms, and DOD-specific elements of the common ground system. It is consolidating DWSS funds in its research and development (R&D) account instead of splitting it between R&D and procurement as in the past two years.

NOAA is requesting $1.07 billion for its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). That is an increase of $688 million above what the agency is assuming it will get for FY2011, the same as it had for FY2010 ($382 million). Its FY2011 request had included a steep increase for transitioning from NPOESS to JPSS, but NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level under the Continuing Resolution (CR). Thus the increase is pushed to FY2012. The request includes funds to acquire and process data from NASA's NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft. NPP was designed as a testbed for NPOESS, but with the restructuring now will be the first operational satellite in the new civil weather satellite system. It is scheduled for launch this year. The NOAA funds will also continue development of instruments and spacecraft for the first two JPSS satellites.

NOAA is in a more difficult situation than DOD. All of its polar orbiting weather satellites are already in orbit, while DOD has two of its older satellites still awaiting launch.

The NPOESS program was created during the Clinton Administration to reduce the costs associated with having separate military and civil weather satellite systems. After years of cost growth and schedule slips, however, the Obama Administration decided to split the program so that each sector will have its own system again. NPOESS was being procured through the Air Force, which is maintaining its contract with Northrop Grumman and rescoping it to reflect the change to the DWSS program. NOAA is using NASA as its acquisition agent for JPSS, as it does for its other satellites. The first JPSS satellite will use the same spacecraft bus as NPP, being built by Ball Aerospace.

Stardust-NExT Press Conference Rescheduled to 3:30 pm EST Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Minutes before it was scheduled to start, NASA announced that it was rescheduling today's Stardust-NExT press conference for 12:30 pm PST (3:30 pm EST). The spacecraft flew by comet Tempel 1 late yesterday.

Rhetoric Heats Up Over FY2011 Spending

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Democrats today turned up the heat on House Republicans over the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, FY2011. President Obama threatened to veto the House version of the CR, H.R. 1, and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), made clear that the bill in its current form is unacceptable.

The House began debate today on the version of H.R. 1 recommended last Friday by the House Appropriations Committee. It would cut $100 billion in federal spending for the remaining months of FY2011, which ends on September 30. Although both Republicans and Democrats have publicly stated that they do not want the governnent to shut down at midnight March 4 when the current CR expires, the chasm between the two sides seems to grow wider every day. The House Republican leadership promised an "open rule" to debate H.R. 1, and hundreds of amendments are expected, many demanding even deeper cuts.

Senator Inouye complained that the House bill is using a meat axe to cut programs with no consideration of their merit. In a press release, he said "...many of the reductions ... were made not because programs were ineffective or wasteful, but out of desire to meet an arbitrary dollar figure cited during a political campaign. Many of the recommendations ... resulted in a 'meat cleaver' approach to budget cuts, when we should be using a scalpel -- responsibly identifying specific programs that are wasteful or unneeded."

Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) saying that it "strongly opposes" the bill and that "If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill."

The House expects to pass the bill this week. Both the House and Senate are in recess next week. That leaves only the week of February 28 for a resolution to be reached. Talk continues to grow that there will be another short-term CR to give both sides more time to find a compromise, as challenging as that will be.

UPDATE 2: Events of Interest: Week of February 14-18, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

UPDATE 2: Minutes before it was scheduled to start, NASA rescheduled the Stardust-NExT press conference for today (Tuesday) until 12:30 pm PST (3:30 pm EST).

UPDATE: A link has been added to the webcast of the OSTP budget briefing at 1:30 today (Monday). Also, NASA plans to post its budget on its website at 1:30 pm today.

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All times are EST unless otherwise noted. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

During the Week

The House is expected to take up the latest FY2011 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) this week. See our fact sheet for the budget numbers it recommends for NASA. Amendments to cut the federal budget more deeply are expected during floor debate.

Monday, February 14

  • Happy Valentine's Day!!
  • Today is "Budget Day." The President will submit his FY2012 budget request to Congress. The budget request should be available on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website by 10:30 am, possibly earlier. The NASA budget should be on its website at 1:30. (Update: 1:30 is the new time for when NASA plans to post its budget)
    • OMB Director, Jacob Lew, will have a press conference at 12:30 pm.
    • Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren will have a press conference at 1:30 pm. The event will be webcast at
    • NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will have a press conference at 2:00 pm at the NASA auditorium (watch on NASA TV). Associate Administrators will have subsequent teleconferences as follows: Space Operations, 3:30 pm, Exploration Systems, 4:15 pm, Office of Chief Technologist, 5:00 pm, Aeronautics, 5:45 pm, Science, 6:30 pm.
    • Defense Secretary Bob Gates will have a press conference at 2:00 pm. Service secretaries will hold subsequent briefings at the Pentagon. The Air Force briefing is at 4:45 pm.
    • The National Science Foundation will have a press briefing at 3:00 pm at NSF Headquarters in Arlington, VA
  • NASA's Stardust-NExT mission will encounter comet Tempel 1 at 11:37 pm EST (8:37 pm PST). Watch on NASA TV.

Tuesday, February 15

Wednesday, February 16

  • House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on FAA's research and development programs (not space-related, but may be of interest anyway), 10:00 am, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Armed Services Committee hearing on DOD's FY2012 budget request, 10:00 am, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building
  • CSIS meeting on National Security Space Strategy, 1800 K Street, NW, Washington, DC, 10:30 -11:30 am EST

Wednesday-Thursday, February 16-17

  • NAC Astrophysics Subcommittee (of the Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
    • Wednesday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm EST, room 3H46
    • Thursday, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EST, room 7H45

Thursday, February 17

  • Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense budget request for FY2012, 9:30 am, Dirksen Senate Office Building room SD-G50
  • House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the FY2012 budget request for research and development, 10:00 am, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
  • FAA COMSTAC Space Transportation Operations Working Group telecon, 11:00 am EST, virtual
  • House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Air Force's FY2012 budget request, 1:00 pm, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building

Events of Interest  

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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